Hartford - The legislature's budget-writing committee on Thursday restored funding to many of the state's cultural and tourism organizations - including Mystic Aquarium and the Garde Arts Center - that had faced cuts under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget adjustment proposal.
The restorations are part of a newly revised version of the $20.7 billion budget plan for the next fiscal year that starts in July.
Members of the Appropriations Committee also added $300,000 to finance efforts to safeguard the Naval Submarine Base in Groton from future closure threats. They also approved $75,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of New London; an extra $2.8 million for vocational-agriculture schools; $3.9 million to cancel a second round of 4 percent fare hikes next year for train and bus services; and $7.6 million to shore up health care for retired teachers.
The committee's budget document enacts various other cuts to come in at just $1 million under Malloy's own adjustment proposal. Committee members approved their plan by a 34-15 vote along party lines.
"We've done most of the same things, we've done them just a little differently," said state Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, the committee's co-chairman.
The legislation is still subject to approval by the full House and Senate before the end of this year's legislative session May 9.
Committee members ditched the Malloy administration's idea to start making culture, arts and tourism organizations compete for a reduced pot of state funding. Under their revised budget, those groups would continue receiving direct support from the state and have all of their funding restored.
Mystic Aquarium actually would see its annual stipend increase by 5 percent, to $652,692. The Garde's stipend also would grow by 5 percent, to $315,762 a year.
The committee rejected a 10 percent funding cut to local tourism districts, which would instead experience a small increase in funding come July.
Many leaders of arts and culture groups attended a public hearing last month in the Capitol complex to voice misgivings about the governor's proposed overhaul of the funding system. The administration had zeroed-out funding temporarily for at least two dozen groups in anticipation of the new arrangement.
The $300,000 line item for the submarine base was a request by members of southeastern Connecticut's legislative delegation. The money would go to the state Office of Military Affairs to help fend off another Base Realignment and Closure process if and when it comes along.
The delegation had asked for $500,000, but the smaller grant should be sufficient, said state Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard. "It's a significant investment for the first year and it sends a pretty powerful message as to the value this base has to the state," he added.
Communities such as Ledyard that host vocational-agriculture programs would experience a 32 percent increase in the annual per-student state grant.
For the Agri-Science and Technology Program at Ledyard High School, the state grant would rise to $605,000 from $402,000, according to Reynolds. "That's a really nice increase for one year," he said. "There still won't be equity with the other alternative schools, but this is a big step forward. Agriculture has always received the smallest operating grant by far."
The committee's budget also provides funding for most of the new initiatives in the governor's education bill.
State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, said the $75,000 for the Boys and Girls Club is exciting news for New London youth.